Presumed Guilty

What is it like to be picked up off the street, told you have committed a murder you know nothing about, and find yourself behind bars for 20 years? In December 2005 this happened to Toño Zuniga in Mexico City, and like thousands of other innocent young men he was condemned for a crime he had never committed. "Presumed Guilty" is the story of two young lawyers and their incredible struggle to free Toño. With no background in film, they set about recording his story as they realized that only a camera could reveal the institutionalized injustice they were witnessing. Shot over 3 years with unprecedented camera access to the Mexican court and prison systems, this observational film is highly dramatic and full of real suspense, yet also, a searing indictment of a system where the Police do not have to investigate because the system presumes guilt.

Presumed Guilty
86 min
Directed by: Roberto Hernández & Geoffrey Smith
Produced by: Layda Negrete, Roberto Hernández, Martha Sosa and Yissel Ibarra

Roberto Hernandez

Roberto Hernandez was trained as a lawyer in Mexico and Canada, and had no particular interest in cameras or film until he found himself collecting statistics at the basement of Mexico City's Superior Court, which houses the archived legal cases of one of the largest cities in the world. What he saw inspired him and his wife Layda to make "El Túnel," a short documentary that presented scandalous facts about Mexico's justice system."El Túnel" was aired in several TV stations throughout Mexico. As a result of the support the film received, in 2008 Mexico's Congress eventually passed the most significant amendment to its Constitution's due process clause, requiring public trials and the presumption of innocence. However, the implementation of this reform is hardly progressing at all, as today the Mexican government remains ostensibly focused on an offensive against drug cartels. In June 2006, the desperate friends and relatives of an inmate saw the names of Roberto & Layda in the newspapers, and contacted them, pleading for help. The experience of filmmaking was fresh in Roberto's mind, and it seemed natural for Roberto to record their first meeting. This shuttled them into a 2-year production adventure that resulted in a film titled "Presumed Guilty," a story that changed their lives. Roberto is currently a graduate student in Public Policy at UC Berkeley.

Geoffrey Smith

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Geoffrey Smith began traveling early, discovering a twin love for movies and storytelling along the way. In 1987 he found himself in Haiti, helping to make a documentary about the country's first election in 31 years. Following the discovery of a massacre of 21 voters in a schoolyard, Smith was himself shot and wounded. After struggling to recover in London, he decided to go back to Haiti to find the man who had nearly killed him — and to film the whole thing. The resulting film, "Searching for a Killer," won wide acclaim and was aired on the BBC. Smith discovered that the camera can be a powerful, cathartic tool in helping people through difficult periods and went on to build his subsequent work around that concept.
The winner of numerous awards, Smith has made more than 22 films and has worked for all the major U.K. broadcasters. His POV film The English Surgeon, about neurosurgeon Dr. Henry Marsh and his work in Ukraine, won a Christopher Award and Best International Feature Documentary awards at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival and SILVERDOCS.